Hey, happy new year!
I decided late last year that my focus word for 2018 was going to be THRIVE. (YES IN ALL CAPS.)
I spent a fair amount of 2017 just...coping. I was coping with our current political dumpster fire, coping with a job that didn’t make me feel engaged, and coping with feeling directionless and without big life goals even two years after getting my PhD. I was just coping with a lot of things in life and not doing a very good job at it.
I did a lot of thinking about what might be holding me back from reaching my goals and why coping seemed to be my new default normal. I discovered that harbored a deep belief that I don’t deserve to have what I want, which ultimately goes back to a sense of unworthiness and shame. (UGH IT'S ALWAYS THAT.) Not getting what I want just seems normal, which as I talked, about here is just a form of learned helplessness, which shows up for me as fear of success .
I’ve been working on trying to change my negative beliefs about success, but its hard. Taking action that supports the new beliefs about success that I’m trying to cultivate has made a huge difference. I set up hypothetical situations in my head: if I believed I was worthy of having X thing in my life, what action would I take? In the case of my job that no longer engaged or challenged me, I thought about what I would do if I thought I deserved to thrive in life and have meaningful work.
The answer, which deep down I knew already, was entirely obvious: I’d quit my job. I’d been limping along and uncomfortable in my job for some time, but reasoned that it was familiar and feared what might happen if I quit. But working at something that didn’t engage me didn’t seem congruent with thriving or being worthy of success.
So I quit my job. I knew it was the right thing to do when the day after I quit I felt like I was moving closer to thriving. (As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with having a day job. Sometimes you just need a lifeboat and a paycheck. In fact, if you’re doing your post-PhD life right, you’ll probably make a lot of mistakes and work at jobs that aren’t quite right. Your missteps, however, get you closer to the right path.) Despite the fact that i felt incredibly uncomfortable because I’d just gotten what I actually wanted, quitting started to refute my negative belief that I didn’t deserve success, happiness, or to thrive in life. As a few weeks passed, I started adjusting to the idea I could actually get what I wanted and that I deserved to have those things. In short, I started believing that I deserved to thrive.
I was so inspired by my experience of quitting my job that I wondered what else I might be capable of. I’ve committed myself this year to figuring out what things are going to help me THRIVE and creating goals and actionable steps that I can take to get there.
I’m also working on reframing my ideas about success, turning my shame narrative on its head and making space for the possibility that even though I’m an imperfect and flawed person, I still deserve to have happiness, success, and to THRIVE in life. I’m also working on the idea that it’s okay (like really okay) to have what I want in life because I’m worthy and deserving.
The idea of THRIVING occurred to me sometime in mid-2017 as I tried to figure out how to turn my desperation into inspiration. I wondered if it might be possible to have a different kind of existence, one in which I might be engaged, have meaningful work, and create a life that worked for me, rather than one that left me exhausted and limping. I thought about what I might want to do. I thought about where I wanted to live, what I wanted to do, who I wanted to serve, what I was good at and what people might pay me for. What if i was actually thriving? What would I do? What might that feel like?
I came to several vague conclusions that nonetheless seemed inspiring. I wanted to live abroad again. I wanted to write and travel, I wanted to help people do more and better writing. I wanted to help people use critical thinking skills to understand the world better. I wanted to get paid to do these things and thought that people might actually pay me money if I helped them in the ways I thought I could.
Then I started thinking about what I wanted life to look like. And I made some goals that corresponded with that vision. So I started figuring out some plans to get there.
Here’s a short list of what I’m planning to accomplish in 2018:
- Regular, weekly blog writing (including some posts on my academic research)
- Finishing draft of a book I’m writing on the emotional aspects of the academic writing process
- Hold my first writing retreat (in July! Details soon!)
- Invent a tour of Mexico/Guatemala focused around my research on the history of archaeological discovery
- Living abroad again, probably in Mexico
- Pay down some student debt
- Get better at marketing my business and engaging people
- Teaching online classes on writing
- Develop some new skills, particularly public speaking
Here’s how I’m planning to meet my goals in 2018:
I set concrete goals that I could quantify. My biggest goal is to be a writer, which is a vague lifestyle goal. I had to figure out an actual, concrete target. I want to finish the book I’m writing on the emotional aspects of the academic writing process, about 50,000 words. I thought about how long I wanted to spend writing it and decided I I wanted to have writing, revision, and editing done by the end of the year. From there, I figured out monthly and weekly word count goals to meet. Broken down into tiny chunks, it seemed totally doable.
I’m holding myself accountable. I’m tracking my daily and yearly word goals using both an online word tracking thingy and an Excel spreadsheet. I haven’t decided which I like better yet. I’m also holding myself accountable with friends and strangers on the internet who I have told about my goals. Blogging, in particular, seems to keep me accountable to my writing goals, so I’ll have you know that for the first week in January, my total word count has been 5251. I had set a goal of 4500 words per chapter (it is not a long book) and ended up completing the first draft of my first chapter in FIVE DAYS. It is, of course, an unholy mess as a shitty first draft, but its done!
I’m also tracking progress with my planner (AND PENS!). What I realized sometime last year in a flash of brilliant insight (/sarcasm) is that achieving great goals is really just a matter of taking small consistent steps towards them and creating a giant chain of small steps that add up to a big goal. So I’m writing in my planner all of the little steps that I’m taking towards my big goals. For example, holding a writing retreat is taking a lot of planning and effort, but I’ve broken down the big tasks into small daily ones that I schedule time for. I’d never really thought about the fact that if there’s not time in your calendar for working on your goals, you’re probably not going to reach them.
I’ve got some other goals too, but the big one is really to figure out how to make thriving an actual concrete thing that I do and then taking small daily steps to make it happen. I’m so excited! I’m feeling engaged with life and work for the first time in a long time.
What are you planning in 2018? How are you planning to get there?
P.S. If you need some help reaching your writing goals, I’m hosting virtual Shut Up and Write sessions this year on Tuesdays at 11am EDT on Twitter with the hashtag #SUAW. Imagine, a whole hour of scheduled time and a community of people to write with? We’re totally reaching our goals, people.